Macromyopia and How Mobile is Transforming How We Work

Posted by Kate Jurras on Thu, Apr 19, 2012

matt cutler 2 resized 600This is the seventh post in our mobile blog series. Throughout the month of April we'll be featuring posts from some of Boston's most expert thought leaders, answering these questions: "What's happening in mobile right now? What's coming soon?This post is by Matt Cutler, Co-Founder and CEO, Kibits.

Over the past several years, smartphones -- like the iPhone and a constellation of Android devices -- have had a profound impact on our lives, both as consumers and professionals. Has this wave of change already crested? Or might everything we have already witnessed merely be the prelude to more fundamental transformations ahead?

I’m an entrepreneur building a next-generation mobile collaboration platform, and, as much as I hate to admit it, a certified modern mobile device fanboy. As of late I just can’t shake the sense that, as with the opening phases of the Web 1.0 boom in the late 1990’s, we’re living in a period of mobile macromyopia. A term originally coined by Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future, macromyopia is the “general human tendency to overestimate the short-term consequences of a profound new technology and underestimate them in the long term.”  

At the outset of the Web 1.0 transformation, much of the focus was on transitioning traditional desktop applications (then commonly referred to as ‘fat clients’) to browser-based ‘thin clients’. In other words, people were doing the same tasks but using a different set of underlying technologies to get things done. Take email for example: in the span of a few short years, millions of users transitioned from fat clients like Outlook and Eudora (remember that one?) to Hotmail and Gmail. Millions more users picked up their very first email address, in part because they didn’t need to acquire and configure specialized software in order to get started.

It was an exhilarating, frenzied time when fortunes were won and lost seemingly overnight, and for those of us who lived through this period it felt like the whole world was changing and everything was up for grabs. But much of what was really happening involved moving existing behaviors between platforms, and making those existing experiences accessible to a broader set of users. In other words, this was the ‘myopic’ opening stages of the Web transformation -- lots happening, lots of growth, but just a prelude of what was to come.

The real impact of the Web was felt when new experiences that were truly native to the Web came onto the scene and started transforming how we socialize, how we work, and how we relate to others and to the world around us. Think blogging, social networks, crowd-sourcing, and more.  

The transition from ‘traditional’ Web-based services to ‘modern’ mobile experiences -- whether that be as native apps or the mobile Web -- is well underway for consumers. Think about how much having an always-available do-almost-anything mobile device in your pocket has already affected your day. Getting directions, looking up store hours, connecting with friends, taking photos, playing games in your stolen moments of downtime, organizing to-do lists, making notes: all of these things previously required sitting in front of your computer. Alone. Now, with smartphones and a host of robust apps, all of these things are available to you at precisely the time and place when when you need them. Services like Foursquare and Instagram exemplify this trend.

In the workplace, however, much of the action so far has been akin to the Web 1.0 transformation of shifting existing experiences (like email or calendars) to a new interaction platform. Like before, the real changes may very well be ahead of us.

The next generation of workplace mobile experiences stand to transform how we work by leveraging the unique capabilities of your mobile device: knowledge of your location, ubiquitous network connectivity, access to your media assets and your cloud-based documents, sensors to create new content (like photos and video) on the fly, the ability to communicate with far-flung groups of people in real time, and more.

Harnessing these capabilities could change how you spend the majority of your time. Imagine spending much less time alone in front your computer and much more time engaging with your customers, connecting with your co-workers, and collaborating with your partners. Imagine getting more done, building stronger relationships, and maybe even having a little fun along the way. “Underestimating long-term changes” indeed.

These are a few of the trends we’re tracking here at Kibits. What do you think? Are they real? If so, how do you think your professional life might be changed over the long term?